The Pandemic Has Made Life Difficult for Emerging Talent, But It’s Not All Bad News

Posted inGraphic Design

What positive lessons can we learn from the pandemic when it comes to improving education and accessibility for young creatives? D&AD President and Dean of Academic Programs at Central Saint Martins, Rebecca Wright, investigates.

COVID-19 hit the creative community particularly hard, and it remains one of the sectors most at risk from the crisis. A year into the pandemic, a report from Otis College of Art and Design reported a loss of 175,000 jobs in California alone while in New York employment in the creative fields fell by 66%.

On the surface, such bleak prospects do not bode well for students and emerging creatives, who have also experienced unparalleled upheaval in their schooling. But on a more positive note, these circumstances have provided new opportunities to nurture emerging design talent, which may well reap positive, long-term changes.

I’ve been seeing this firsthand in my role as a Dean at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, and as President of D&AD, a non-profit education organization and awards program for advertising and design that bridges the gap between education and industry.

For example, last year D&AD partnered with Google to expand D&AD Shift, a free industry-led night school for new creatives facing barriers to accessing higher education and employment. Originally founded in London, D&AD Shift with Google moved onto New York and is now expanding to three additional cities, including Sydney. More than 67% of graduates have gone on to work for leading creative companies such as Droga5, The Mill, McCann, and Design Bridge. These promising results made it possible to establish a digital campus and enhance the reach and accessibility of the program.

Shifter Peggy Pollard stands with D&AD President, Rebecca Wright and D&AD Chairman, Tim Lindsay.

While the accessibility and quality of online education has been one of the pandemic’s biggest challenges, it has the potential to be one of its most positive legacies. Through their remarkable adaptation to online learning, students at Central Saint Martins have developed a unique set of transferable skills that we believe will have real value in commercial settings. In digital spaces, they are learning new ways to connect, elevate, and amplify their ideas.

The wider creative community is also seeing opportunities to do things differently in the wake of the pandemic. This includes leading agencies and brands, who are adapting their approaches to support and nurture young design talent.

Alasdair Lennox is Group Executive Creative Director of Experience, Americas, at Landor and Fitch, one of the agencies that leads workshops at D&AD Shift. For him, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of supporting creatives without formal design education.

“Greater diversity equals more creativity, but we need to actually create those opportunities for people,” said Lennox. He also acknowledged that the pandemic has provided an unexpected benefit in the form of more diverse design talent.

“San Francisco, where I am based, is an amazing creative hub, but it is too expensive for many people to live in,” he continued. “Three years ago, we would have hired people in a commutable distance. But now we can hire talented people from much further away. It has become a real leveler.”

Remote working has also encouraged creative agencies to enhance their support systems for interns, as well as graduates and dropouts transitioning into real jobs.

“The experience of work for interns can feel very transactional at the moment,” said Jess Marie, Creative Director at Design Bridge, New York. “They’re briefed, sent away, and then have to present that work back on digital platforms like Teams, which can feel very formal. We are making much more of an effort to teach them step-by-step processes, and have introduced an internal mentoring program, which we will keep in place for in-person settings as well.”

D&AD Shift recognizes the importance of Marie’s point, and we recognize that not all opportunities will arise immediately following the 4-month night school. To address this, we have recently created Shift Select, an additional month of on-the-job learning. In this program, Shifters can specialize in a pathway of advertising, design, or production and learn with our agency partners. We’ve also introduced Shift Studio, an industry-led learning experience that will enable the Shift alumni to continue to develop their portfolio. This program will include guided brief responses, tackling business, and societal challenges, working directly with in-house teams at brands including Google, Disney, giffgaff, and Here Design.

It is crucial for brands to support emerging creatives, especially when it comes to improving access and diversity. Ratna Desai, Director of Product Design at Netflix for Personalization Experience believes that technology companies can play a big role in preparing the next generation of designers. She believes “the people designing our service need to be reflective of our global members. It’s essential to building inclusive products.”

To this end, Netflix has launched its own program called the Netflix Pathways Bootcamp, which develops students’ technology skills by applying them to real-world business problems. They aim to increase representation in the tech industry, particularly among Black and Latinx communities.

As a result of initiatives like D&AD Shift, both Marie and Desai have observed more individuals offering their time and resources to support junior talent. 

D&AD Shift with Google now takes place in London, New York, and Sydney, with more cities to come. Keep an eye out for updates on applying at D&AD.

“There are individual driving programs set up to help creatives who want a career in the industry, but haven’t had the opportunity to come through college,” Marie noted. “John Glasgow, the Co-founder of creative agency Vault 49, spearheads an initiative giving students from low-income backgrounds the opportunity to work on projects and broaden their networks, for example.”

Desai has also noticed a rise in exciting, hands-on opportunities. “I recently attended a fantastic event called Made in the Future, founded and led by Kristy Tillman, Director of Product Design at Netflix for Creative Production & Promotion,” she said. “The program provides the opportunity for design leaders and senior practitioners to come together and share ideas, find camaraderie, and to support the professional development of Fellows (emerging underrepresented design talent) through a series of immersive events.”

There’s no denying that the pandemic hit the creative community hard, but it has also provided a wide range of benefits. It accelerated the acquisition of new skills, encouraged us to consider new approaches to design education, and reiterated the importance of collaborating as a community to ensure new creatives can fulfill their potential. It’s also proof that, even as established creatives, we never stop learning or evolving. I’m proud of D&AD for its support of emerging talent, and I encourage creatives far and wide to get involved however they can.

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